AFC – ESFAHAN, Mahdi Rajabzadeh’s second-half penalty ensured Zob Ahan have the edge in their AFC Champions League quarter-final with defending champions Pohang Steelers as they claimed a 2-1 win in the first leg at Foolad Shahr Stadium on Wednesday.
The Iranians, who have already claimed some formidable scalps on their way to the last eight having defeated pre-tournament favourites Bunyodkor and last year’s runners-up Al Ittihad, got the winner from a 75th minute penalty, converted by new signing Rajabzadeh after Jung Hong-youn had fouled Igor Castro in the area.
It was the ever-dangerous Castro who had given Zob Ahan the lead after 18 minutes, only to see his Brazilian compatriot Mota equalise 37 minutes later.
The Iranian league leaders enjoyed the best of a bright start to the match with Rajabzadeh heading over a cross from Mohammad Ghazi in the 10th minute.
Eight minutes later a Rajabzadeh corner was headed on by Ghazi to Castro who turned and shot past goalkeeper Shin Hwa-yung.
That woke the visitors up and a period of possession ended with Korea Republic international Seol Ki-hyeon’s header turned around the post by Zob Ahan goalkeeper Shahab Gordan.
After 32 minutes, attacking right-back Mohammad Hosseini, Zob Ahan’s leading scorer this season, received a cut-back from Rajabzadeh and crossed for Ghazi, but he failed to hit the target.
Pohang got what could be a crucial away goal 10 minutes into the second half when a right wing cross from Kim Jae-sung was not cleared properly by Farshid Talebi. His header fell to Mota who brought the ball down with his left foot and shot into the bottom corner of the net with his right, silencing the 9,000 fans inside the Foolad Shahr Stadium.
The hosts continued to press, however, as Castro was denied on two occasions by defenders and then shot wide – all in the space of four minutes.
Then, with 20 minutes to go, indecision in front of goal cost Ghasem Hadadifar.
He played a one-two with Ghazi but took too long to shoot from a slight angle and saw the chance disappear with a tackle from Pohang captain Kim Hyung-il.
But Rajabzadeh then scored from the spot with his sixth ACL goal of the season, five of them coming for Mes Kerman in the group stage.
The defending champions could have snatched an injury time equaliser when substitute Hwang Jin-sung saw his shot deflected wide by Gordan in the Zob Ahan goal. The corner eventually fell to Mota on the left edge of the area but his left-foot shot went into the side netting.